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The Stranger In The Photo Is Me Donald Murray Essay

I was happy. In the picture, I was probably about 9 or 10 years old. I don't remember exactly why I was laying on the floor with my first dog and best friend, Mushu, that evidently buoyant afternoon but I remember doing it rather often.

It's easy to imagine trotting into the kitchen of the house I grew up in to find my beloved pup laying so silly on the floor. I can imagine collapsing onto the tile with a giggle to accompany her.

It doesn't particularly matter now. It only matters that I was happy. It's funny how things can change in just a couple of years.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 seemed like any other day. I woke up. I went to school. I was in the seventh grade then. At 3:45, I went home. On Wednesdays, I would usually be picked up for church by my Uncle Jeff. I would go to church while my mom went to dinner with my grandma without having to be bother with any interruption from me.

At 4:00, I was picked up for church. A normal Wednesday. I got home around 8:30 as usual. But something was different. Nothing was different. But everything was different.

My mom wasn't home whereas she was usually awaiting my arrival when I walked through the front door. Suspicion number on. My grandma, however, was home. Suspicion number two. She seemed on edge. She wouldn't tell me where my mom was. Only that she would be home.

"Don't worry. Go to bed. Don't worry," she kept repeating. Something was wrong. I didn't know what it was or when it would be over but something was very, very wrong.

I remember going into the kitchen, circling the kitchen table and clumsily falling to the floor next to my Mushu just as I had done so many times before. I have always said that animals have a way of knowing when something's gone awry. The way she slowly blinked, let out a long, old sigh, and reached her paw out toward me confirmed the suspicion that something was out of place.

We would lay there until the front door creaked slowly and the shadow of my slumped over, puffy faced mother plodded in.

She caught a glimpse of the two of us, sprawled across the floor of the dark, daft kitchen. Across the cold tile she walked until she reached the two of us and gently sat down in front of us. Taking my hand in one of hers and Mushu's paw in the other, she began to sob.

For six minutes I laid there on the tile and watched the one who gave me life weep uncontrollably. I had never seen my mother cry the way she did that night six years ago. I didn't say a word. I was too scared to say anything.

After composing herself, she looked deep into my 12-year-old eyes and, as if her words were vomit she could contain in her gut no longer, she hurled the words, "Christopher is dead. Your brother is dead," into my lap.

I don't remember much from the rest of the night. I remember my mom trudging off to bed. I remember not going to bed. I remember laying in the floor with my Mushu until I had to leave the comfort of the unforgiving tile with my pup and go to school.

I think my mom might have begged me to stay home but I don't remember. I don't remember being in classes until sixth period rolled around. I remember every detail of the short time I spent in sixth period that day.

I remember Mrs. Epperson asking where my homework was. I remember telling her that I didn't have it. I remember her asking why. I especially remember telling her exactly why I did not have Textbook page 254, problems 1-23 (odd) to hand in. And then I remember that reason walloping right into my face.

My eyes welled and colors blurred into vibrant, moving blobs. My nose burned and I could feel the mucus begin to ease from the security of its cavity and with tears sprinting down my face, I began to vomit right into Abraham Lincoln's copper face so neatly positioned in Mrs. Epperson's patent leather penny-loafers that afternoon in math class.

The rest of the week passed in a daze as I lay on the cold tile of the corner by the refrigerator with my Mushu.

As I lay on the kitchen floor with my Mushu the morning of my brother's funeral, I became overwhelmed with fear. Questions of guilt and blame ran through my mind. These thoughts continued throughout the entirety of the funeral, the school year, the summer, high school. For three years I stumbled about in a state of trepidation. Scared of myself.

At the start of my Sophomore year, I knew I'd become a lost cause. Everyone knew. Every day was the same: go to school, suffer through six classes. Sometimes I would think about my brother while in class and often when this would happen I would begin to convulse uncontrollably. I had lost all control of myself. The fear encompassed me; my mind, my soul, and now it had even taken control of my body.

Then I'd go home; return to the comfort of my tile and my Mushu. I was scared to go anywhere, do anything, see anyone. I could see the light in the dark there on that icy tile with my Mushu but I was too scared to chase the light and I found myself surrounded by an immense, unchanging darkness-- too afraid of what I would do to myself to get up off the kitchen floor, to go out on the weekends, to spend time with my own family.

I knew that was what I needed to do. I needed to get over the uneasiness of getting off of that tile in the corner by the refrigerator with my Mushu. But it was that same fear that kept me there.

Sept. 3, 2015, after nearly five years of laying on the tile, I got up. I couldn't be scared of that I would do to myself anymore. I got off the tile with my Mushu. In order to move on, in order to stop being afraid, I had to get out of this static. I couldn't heal if I was scared of what I didn't know.

In that moment, I got up and I got help. I began to see a therapist, with some resistance, once a week. It took me a month before anything was said in therapy. It was only after I realized the mass amount of money being poured into therapy sessions week after week for me to sit in a mauve, faux-sude La-Z-Boy and stare the same blank stare into the popcorn-textured ceiling for an hour that I began to speak.

I spoke up, little by little, until one afternoon the word-vomit could not be swallowed back down into my gut any longer and I projected it all into the face of my therapist, all at once until it was so empty that by body must have thought I was starving to death because I fainted. It was when I woke up that I picked myself up off the tile forever.

I no longer lay in the cold, dark corner of tile in the kitchen floor by the refrigerator. Now, I sit at the kitchen table with my old Mushu by my side, no longer afraid. Occasionally, I'll join her on the all-too comfortable tile of the kitchen floor, but instead of laying in the darkness of the corner by the refrigerator, we lay in the radiance of the sun beneath the skylight and I hold her paw in mine and we let the light hit out faces and I am no longer afraid.


 Narendran SairamSeptember 16


, 2010AP English CompositionMurray Essay Final DraftPowerful language and strong images play a very crucial part in Murray’s “TheStranger in the Photo is me”, and allow Murray to convey his one request from lifethrough changing tones in the article. The article which takes a

in medias res

approachinto Murray’s life, bombards the reader with the author’s feelings about the picture andultimately about his life and projects Murray’s wish: for time to have stopped when the photo was taken. The passage is broken into two parts: the past before the picture and the past after the picture and the description of these two different pasts and the contrast between them is what ultimately helps make his point.In the first part, Murray talks about the picture with him on a “tricycle before theduplex on Grand View Avenue in Wollaston,” and then goes on to the picture with himin a “seesucker suit when [he] was 5 and lived in a Cincinatti hotel,” and finally mentionsother pictures in which he was dressed up as a cowboy, a pilot and an Indian Chief beforeactually focusing on the World War two photo. All of these pictures of the past paintedan image of an innocent little boy who had an enjoyable childhood. Furthermore, thelanguage used by Murray to describe the “stranger” in the World War II picture bolstersthis image. Murray explains his “disregard for regulation,” and the “touch of dishonestyfor a girl who waited at home,” in an almost conversational way which made it easier for me to relate to his actions. All in all, at the end of the first part, I had, in my mind, the picture of a young man who was satisfied with his life and was “eager for the loss of [hisinnocence].”The tone rebounds in the second part of the story. Murray dives into his past after the picture and his voice takes on a regretful tone. He explains that he had not known,when the picture was taken, that his life would take unexpected turns. He deplores hisarmy career which he sees as nothing more than “industrial merchandising.” He recallsthe presence of his parents and the loss of them after the photo was taken. He laments thefailure of his first marriage to that girl that had been waiting for him when the picture wastaken. He mourns the loss of one of his daughters; lastly, he grieves his inability to “oncemore enter the photograph and become what [he] was that day when autumn sunlightdappled the barracks wall and [he] was so eager to experience the combat [his] father wanted so much for [him].” The entire second part is melancholy as suggested by wordssuch as terrible, gross, divorce and outlive. At the end of his rant, I was left with an imageof a defeated man who had faced more bad things in life than good. Such an image, so far from and so very different from the image this man’s life left before the picture, isdefinitely a cause for nostalgia. His ultimate regret though, is the fact that he cannot“enter the snapshot of the smiling soldier who is still stranger to [him], still innocent of the heroic harm man can deliver to man.”In the end, his frustration with the past is that it is the past and cannot be frozenforever into the present. Murray’s tone both, in the first part and in the second are bolstered by his images and his language. While the first part graced me with the face ahappy boy who had a normal childhood, the second part marred me with body of a